RENTON, Wash. — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won't be moving rashly to enforce the league's newly enhanced personal conduct policy and discipline San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was arrested early Sunday on felony domestic violence charges.
Speaking at a youth flag football event Wednesday, Goodell said he'll wait for the legal process to play out for McDonald as he would with any other potential first offender among NFL personnel.
"I think the first thing we have to do is let the process play out, get the facts, and make sure you understand all the circumstances," Goodell said. "We don't (know the facts) right now and we're obviously following it very closely. But the policy will be applied uniformly across players, coaches, executives, commissioners. I think we made that very clear in the policy."
McDonald was taken into custody after an alleged incident at his 30th birthday party that police say left the victim with "visible injuries." He later was released from Santa Clara County Jail after posting $25,000 bail.
The arrest came just days after Goodell sent a letter to owners announcing increased penalties for personal conduct violations involving domestic violence or sexual assault, including a six-game suspension for a first offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second.
For the league to enforce the discipline, Goodell said, a person would have to be "not only charged, but we would wait for the legal system to complete its process, particularly in any case on a first (offender). That's something that's very important to us."
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh expressed the same sentiment earlier Wednesday, saying he does not tolerate domestic violence, but the team believes in due process.
The enhanced policy came in face of intense public criticism for Goodell's handling of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended just two games after entering into a pretrial intervention program following an arrest for punching his then-fiancée at a New Jersey casino and being caught on camera dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.
Asked why he felt compelled to admit he erred on Rice, Goodell said, "Well, because I think you've got to be accountable for what you do. The policy wasn't where we want it to (be) and that's my responsibility and I think it's important for the ownership to understand that and (see) how serious we're taking the issue, the importance of the work that needs to be done.
"It's not just about discipline. We're going to step up every aspect of our program — in education, training — and we've been working an awful lot over years with experts in this field and we think we can really make a difference here. I wanted them to hear that directly from me."
Goodell touched on several other topics in a brief session with reporters after announcing an extension of the NFL's "Play 60" initiative that will provide flag football kits to more than 500,000 children in elementary schools and after-school programs across the country this year.
- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will be permitted to collect profits from the six games during his suspension for violating the personal conduct policy because he already was fined the maximum $500,000 following his guilty plea Tuesday on a misdemeanor DUI charge. "This penalty is 10 times financially more than a player would get, and there's no discipline from a suspension standpoint for a first-time offender DUI in the players," Goodell said. "Now, we would like to change that. But this is obviously six games. And (Irsay will) be subject to the same issues with testing and program-related that we would expect others to do. So, it's very important for us to hold everyone up to that standard and Jim understands that and understands his responsibility."
- The NFL went through "through a great deal of discussions with outside experts" before deciding to conditionally reinstate Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, who won't be eligible to play in games until Week 11. "We felt where he was, this was an appropriate way to bring him back into the league," Goodell said of Brent, who spent six months in jail after his conviction for drunk-driving manslaughter in the 2012 crash that left teammate Jerry Brown dead. "But he still has to meet a very high standard. He understands that. He can't afford have any mistakes from here."
- Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, is "clearly getting" a fair opportunity after signing to the Cowboys' practice squad Wednesday, Goodell said. Asked if the league worked with teams to make sure Sam got a job following his release by the St. Louis Rams, Goodell said, "We didn't need to. Teams are looking to get the best players they possibly can. They're interested in him as a football player. And I think you've seen the way the NFL has reacted to that and teams have reacted to that. That's what they're interested in. Our players are the same way. They want people who can play the game."
- A deal with the union on a comprehensive drug policy is overdue and the NFL is anxious to get it done, Goodell said. But he declined to say if the sides are closer to a deal that would include testing for human growth hormone as agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement more than three years ago. "My view on that is unfortunately, over the three years, a lot of things have changed," Goodell said. "One minute it's this issue and another minute it's another issue. We've tried to address all those issues. We think we have. I'll be happy when we can announce that we have the program done and completed."
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.
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